Although World War II has recently ended, the suffering still goes on, especially for the children left without families to look after them: the ones whose parents have been killed in the fighting or the death camps, or have simply been separated from them with no clear way of finding them again. One such child was Karel Malik (Ivan Jandl), who believes his family to have died; he was parted from his father and sister and they are indeed dead, but his mother (Jarmila Novotna) is still alive and searching for him. Karel has been rounded up by the Allied soldiers along with many other children, but they are terrified of people in uniform, and he escapes...
Back in 1948, if there was one film guaranteed to have you crying it was The Search, a torn from the headlines tale of the terrible tragedy that war had left behind and a reminder that the work to rebuild societies was not over yet. Indeed, even today, although it is far less well known, it is thought of as one of the perfect tearjerkers, and it's true you would have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by the plight of not only Karel, but all his fellow orphans and survivors. So effective was the Czech Jandl in this that he won a special Oscar, which ironically ruined his chances of a decent career in acting because the Communists shunned him for accepting it.
Which is a great shame because he exhibited quite some skill, particularly as he was not speaking his lines in his native language. Little Karel is missing believed drowned when the friend he was with dies in the river while fleeing: the authorities think they have both gone the same way. But he is still alive and hiding in the ruins of post-war Germany: this was the first Hollywood film to shoot on location there, and its semi-documentary appearance works well to its benefit. While starving and looking for food one day soon after, Karel happens to notice a G.I. sitting in his jeep eating lunch and he is noticed in return.
The G.I. is "Steve" Stevenson, played by another tragic actor, Montgomery Clift here making his debut. It made him a star as audiences responded to his charisma, sensitivity and handsome good looks; for children watching this he was the perfect big brother and for women they had found a new heartthrob, all of which was quite some distance from the star's true, deeply troubled personality. So knowing that, it's curiously touching to see him playing someone so reliable, and his character's kindness to the little boy from the moment he offers him his sandwiches is not something easily dismissed. Eventually, the two become friends, and Steve considers adopting the kid, who he renames Jimmy as he cannot get any answers out of him.
Jimmy is taught English, and gets on terrifically well with Steve, responding to him as an adult he can finally trust. This trust is an important aspect of the story, as the children who have been so terribly knocked around by life have to find someone who can be a guardian to them and to have faith in, although the film is careful to point out that this will not be an easy path to stability. Not every war child had a great example like Steve to help them, but Karel does, and we are cheered by their relationship even when it has to be explained to the boy that his mother is probably dead (a scene certain to have you weeping). But she is not, and still searching for him, so it's only at the point where both have given up hope that they finally find each other: no filmmaker could be so cruel as not to give them a happy ending, although the sight of so many not so lucky children is a sobering one. Music by Robert Blum.